On this day we pray for tender compassion on all little ones, whose new souls, so fresh from the light, shine in our midst with adorable brightness. May we honor them deeply, learn from them truly, respecting the deep wisdom they carry. – Daphne Rose Kingma
I was raised a Lutheran. I was baptized at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Muskegon when I was three weeks old because the pastor was leaving and my parents wanted to slip me in before his car pulled out of town. Shortly after that we transferred to Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Muskegon Heights.
When I was in fifth grade Pastor Beem instructed me, and a couple of other eager youth, in the meaning and purpose of Communion. After my lessons, I was able for the first time in my life to kneel at the rail surrounding the forbidden altar and actually eat what tasted and felt like a little piece of Styrofoam that always stuck to the roof of my mouth (those of you who have been around churches long enough know what I’m talking about). Then I got to try to remove the sticky pasty glue with the help of a sip of sweet, thick Mogen David wine.
I don’t remember what Pastor Beem said about the meal, but I remember the feeling of having it served to me. I was someone different, more special. I knew that I was now part of the club. No longer left out, no longer just a kid. The doors had been flung open and I had joined the ranks of the elders of the church.
A short time later my family and a few others began a mission start in Fruitport. Eventually we called Pastor Jack to serve us. I loved Pastor Jack for a lot of reasons – mostly because he was the first adult who had ever intentionally told me his first name – and then allowed me to USE it! But there was one thing about Pastor Jack that hurt me deeply. Pastor Jack didn’t believe kids should receive communion until they had completed confirmation – and that didn’t usually happen until about 9th grade.
Wham! Just like that the door was slammed shut and I was denied something far more important than bread and wine. I was labeled as a mere kid, a baby. As one unworthy to receive the holy meal and unable to even understand what I was missing.
It was a pretty demoralizing experience, to be returned to the ranks of the children – and particularly ironic given the way children were treated by the person who started the meal in the first place. You see, Jesus never turned the children away or told them they had to grow up before he’d have time for them. In fact he even rebukes the disciples when they try to keep the kids away. (Rebuke means he got pretty bent out of shape over the whole deal and made sure his followers knew about it.)
It seems Jesus wasn’t concerned about little sticky hands hanging on his clothes, little show offs vying for attention, or little high pitched voices asking simple or silly or repetitive questions. Everyone was welcome to approach the teacher and to ask for prayer.
But Jesus went a lot further than that. The texts that record these occasions aren’t about giving permission to the least of society to bask in the presence of real greatness. They aren’t about taking pity on those who are normally left out so that they too might receive something important. They don’t even remind us to be patient or kind while reminding us that it’s okay for kids to be kids.
Instead, Jesus’ words in these texts are a slap in the face to adulthood, to maturity, to educated reason and proper decorum. Jesus turns the very structure of society upside down. He doesn’t tell us to allow the kids get a glimpse of how great it is to be us – to be adults – to be part of the in crowd.
He tells us that the only way we’re going to find the kingdom is if we become like little children. Humble, trusting, and unpretentious. When we learn to welcome the little children we discover that we’re not doing them a favor after all. Instead, they are doing us one.
Invitation to Reflection:
1) When have you been treated like an adult? Like a child?
2) What does it mean to “change and become like little children”?
3) Who is the most important child in your life? What might they have to teach you?